A Book We Love: Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Barbara Pym, who wrote mostly in the 1950s, has been described as the most underrated author in the English language. Her books fell into obscurity before being resurrected in 1977. Today there is a Barbara Pym Society that holds international conferences about her works and her life; books and articles have been published as well—and yet she is still not well known.
Excellent Women is a good introduction to Barbara Pym’s works. Mildred Lansbury is in her 30s, unmarried (in 1950s London that makes her a veritable spinster), and has a tendency to get involved in other people’s affairs. Mildred is also an excellent observer, offering witty, perceptive comments about herself and about the people she meets. Like Jane Austen before her, Barbara Pym creates a character-driven world with Mildred as entertaining tour guide. There are deeper themes here too, as Mildred ponders gender roles, societal expectations, and her own place.